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Brain and spinal tumours

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Stages of brain and spinal cord cancer

Staging is a way of describing or classifying a cancer based on the extent of cancer in the body. There is no standard staging system for brain and spinal cord cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) grading system is used for classifying brain and spinal cord tumours in Canada.

The most important factors in describing a brain and spinal cord tumour are the cells from which the cancer began and the grade of the tumour.

The most common staging system for many solid tumour cancers is the TNM system. The TNM system describes:

  • the size of the primary tumour (T)
  • the number and location of any regional lymph nodes (N) that have cancer cells in them
  • whether or not the cancer has spread or metastasized (M) to another part of the body

This system is not used with brain and spinal tumours because:

  • The size of the tumour is not as important as the grade, type and location of the tumour.
  • The brain and spinal cord have no lymph nodes.
  • Metastases outside the central nervous system rarely occur with these tumours.

Recurrent brain and spinal cord cancer

Recurrent brain and spinal cord cancer means that the cancer has come back after it has been treated. It can recur in the same location as the original cancer or in other areas of the central nervous system.


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